Saturday, March 11, 2006

Guest Blogger: Shawn Wood

Shawn Wood is a commercial litigator and partner with the national law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP. Shawn is also a monthly columnist for Chicago Lawyer magazine and a recipient of its Annual Writing Award. Most recently, he was honored by the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin as one of its "40 under 40 Attorneys To Watch" in 2005.

He's also a very funny writer. He was kind enough to contribute the following analysis of "Lawyers in the movies" for the blog...

The Legality Awards
by Shawn Wood

Portrayals of lawyers as everyday heroes in the movies is what draws many in every generation to the legal profession.

And when it comes to seasoned, battle-tested warriors, from Gregory Peck’s champion for the unjustly accused in To Kill a Mockingbird, to Glenn Close’s determined, big-firm litigator in Jagged Edge, to Paul Newman’s boozy, solo practitioner in The Verdict, our celluloid legal heroes are often memorable, compelling, and well-drawn.

So every March, between the Oscars and March Madness, I offer my annual Fake Legal Oscars column, focusing on silver screen portrayals of what was once called The Noble Profession. So cue music and yank Joan Rivers off the red carpet. Here goes...

Best Opening Statement

No one followed the “keep it simple, stupid” rule better than Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny. Nine words on behalf of the defense: “Everything that guy just said is bullsh--. Thank you.”

Gotta love the “thank you” at the end. You never want to be impolite.

Best Judge

Most movies portray judges as scowling, one-dimensional stiffs without ever showing us the person behind the stern demeanor and black robe.

So the Fake Legal Oscar for Best Judge goes to the late Ted Knight for giving us the most unforgettable jurist who ever lit up the big screen: Judge Smails in Caddyshack ("Don't just stand there, Spaulding, get some glue!")

If there was any justice in this world, there would have been a sequel featuring Judge Smails on the bench handling his motion call ("well, counsel.... we're waiting") or mentoring young lawyers at bar functions ("the world needs ditch diggers, too").

Best Portrayal Of The Unauthorized Practice Of Law

How pessimistic has the world become when the most heroic portrayal of a member of the legal profession in recent film history was by Julia Roberts playing indomitable non-lawyer (expressly anti-lawyer) Erin Brockovich?

On a brighter note, this movie would also win in the category: “Best Supporting Undergarment In A Law-Related Film.”

Most Boring Trial

People hate watching lawyer movies with lawyers. We can’t resist pointing out any parts that are legally flawed. Like if you rent the steamy legal thriller Body Heat with a date, don't kill the mood by belaboring the film's misapplication of The Rule Against Perpetuities (unless you're dating a first-year law student, in which case, this type of banter might be a turn-on).

I think the reason movies get it wrong sometimes is not because the producers couldn't afford a legal consultant, but because "keeping it real" can end up being, well, boring. Case in point, the award here goes to The Rainmaker. Building a courtroom drama on an insurance coverage trial is like going to Taste of Chicago and stuffing yourself at the Burger King booth. It’s just a wasted opportunity.

Best Witness Examination

This one goes to Woody Allen for his inimitable examination of himself as a treason defendant in Bananas, replete with objections. ("I object your honor. This trial is a travesty. It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham. I move for a mistrial.")

Worst Theme Song

No contest. Rod Stewart’s “Love Touch” from Legal Eagles.

The inane lyrics make “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” sound like “Stairway to Heaven.”

The Honorable Dr. Gonzo
“What Were The Casting People Smoking?” Award

The nominees for most miscast actor portraying a young lawyer could be endless, from eighties brat-packer Judd Nelson in From the Hip to Risky Business call girl Rebecca De Mournay in Guilty as Sin.

The award here, though, must go to Keanu Reeves in The Devil’s Advocate.

I’ll buy that Keanu made the leap from the surfer dude he played in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (and about ten other movies) to action flicks like Speed and The Matrix after spending some time in the gym. But Keanu “whoa” Reeves as a killer litigator with a southern accent and national reputation for having never lost a jury trial?

What’s next, Stifler from American Pie in a remake of And Justice For All?

Best Intentionally Comedic Portrayal

Assuming Keanu’s Matlock turn wasn’t intended to be funny, the winner in this category will surely go to Phil Morris when his recurring Seinfeld character Jackie Chiles gets his own feature film. (“It’s lewd, lascivious, salacious, ... outrageous!”)

Until then, in a Cinderella victory over Jim Carrey in Liar, Liar and Michael Richards in Trial and Error, I’m giving Bill Murray’s criminally ignored performance in Wild Things the nod in this category.

You probably didn’t see this movie, and if you did, you might remember more about Denise Richards than Bill Murray. Either way, hats off to whoever recognized Murray’s “range” was not limited to playing ambitious assistant greenskeepers or irreverent military heroes. His performance as the neck-brace-wearing, storefront shyster in Wild Things is a welcome surprise in this otherwise uneven piece of pulp fiction.

Most Commendable Attempt To Make
A Transactional Practice Seem Film-Worthy

The drama of trial practice unavoidably makes for better theater than, say, a well-considered plan for corporate debt restructuring (although the latter often pays better).

Consequently, there’s always been a cruel irony in the fact that transactional lawyers often put together film deals, and yet Hollywood has given us precious few on-screen transactional lawyers whose practice was remotely interesting.

Sure, Robert Duvall is great as non-litigator Tom Hagen in The Godfather movies, but as we all remember, he had a special practice, he handled one client. Tom Hanks played a transactional lawyer in Philadelphia, but the movie quickly shifts to Denzel Washington's courtroom thundering against Hanks' former firm.

So the final award here, on sheer style points, goes to James Spader as Charlie Sheen's easily corruptible partner-in-crime in Wall Street. This is hardly one shining moment for the portrayal of any type of lawyer on film, but Spader's descent from jittery rookie to corner-office criminal ("what's in it for moi?") is inspired, instructive, and best of all, interesting.

And Finally, Best Portrayal Of “What It’s Really Like”

My winner here, barely edging out a stellar Paul Newman (circa. 1959) in The Young Philadelphians, is Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men.

Not convinced? Still hung up on the Nuremberg defense problem? Still focusing on the painfully trite banter between Cruise and Demi Moore during softball batting practice? All fair criticisms, but Premiere magazine lists the climactic “You Can’t Handle The Truth” examination of Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Nathan Jessep as one of the 100 best movie moments ever, and who could argue?

The Premiere article also makes the mistake of describing Cruise’s Lt. Kaffee as a “young hot shot lawyer,” and this misses the whole point.

Lt. Kaffee wasn’t a hot shot. He was young, inexperienced, and most importantly, known for not trying cases. The movie showed a young lawyer coming to grips with these realities. It showed mundane strategy sessions (“we’ll get the witness to admit it!”). It showed the challenge of controlling a hostile witness (“what do you want to talk about now, my favorite color?”). It showed the struggle between trusting one’s own instincts and the doubts brought on by inexperience. And then best of all, there was the glass of water.

As the voices inside his head are saying “abort mission,” and before he takes a chance and comes out a winner, Cruise walks over to counsel table and pours himself a glass of water. As he raises the glass to his mouth with a nervous, shaking hand, the scene manages to capture the simultaneous fears, doubts and joys of “what it’s really like” to be an assiduous new member of The Noble Profession.

And if Cruise had put down the glass, looked into the camera like Seinfeld’s Jackie Chiles, and said “delectable, delightful ...delicious,” this might have been the best movie ever made. I guess we’ll need to wait for the sequel.

That wraps up this year's awards. Now get back to work, March Madness is only weeks away.

If you missed any previous guest bloggers, click here:

Thursday, March 09, 2006

From the Archives: The Birth of Johnny Kaempfer

The date was March 12, 1998.

The headline on the Chicago Sun Times front page: “Cicero deal halts Rally by Klan”
The headline on the Chicago Tribune front page: “Clinton plans to join Ulster peace talks”
The headline on the Daily Herald front page: “Clinton refuses to say whether he will testify to grand jury”
The headline on the New York Times front page: “The World of Paula Jones”

But the biggest story was happening in Mt. Prospect, and only one reporter was on hand to break the story....Me. I called into the John Landecker show that morning to report the news flash. The cast of characters included John Landecker, sidekick Catherine Johns, and newsman Richard Cantu.

The following is a transcript of that important phone call.

John: Oldies 104.3, John Records Landecker, it’s 8:27, and joining us on the phone from the maternity ward is the producer of the program, Rick the German Boy Kaempfer. Good morning, Rick.

Rick: Good morning.

John: Rick, tell us what’s going on.

: Well as long as we’re plugging our kids (John had just plugged his daughter’s play), I’ve got a new one to plug.

John: Aaaawwwwright!

Rick: Last night around eleven thirty Bridget’s water broke and we didn’t even have time to make it to the hospital downtown, so we went to the one out here.

: Oh, is that right?

Rick: And we have a new baby boy!

(Cheering and clapping in the studio)

Richard: Whoo Hooo! Congratulations. Two knucklehead boys!

Rick: And it’s a big one too.

: How big?

Rick: 8 pounds, 6 ounces.

Catherine: That is pretty big. How’s Bridget doing?

Rick: She’s doing real well. I’m at home now. I came home to check on Tommy...

John: Wait a doggone minute! You went home to check on your other child before you called the show? Where are your priorities?

Rick: Sorry, forgive me. I’m hopelessly out of whack.

John: OK, 8 pounds. How long was it?

Rick: 21 inches...if you know what I’m saying.

Catherine: We know what you’re saying.

John: No, how long was the baby?

Rick: Oh, the baby?

Richard: Once more into the gutter.

John: So what time was this kid born?

: Two o’clock in the morning. They kicked me out of the hospital at 4:00, because Bridget has to share a room, and I came home and got a little sleep, and Tommy just woke me up, so I’m calling you right away.

John: So you’ve called all your family I hope.

Rick: Bridget called them.

John: But she had the baby.

Rick: Yeah, she had the baby in about two hours. It wasn’t that bad, although that’s easy for me to say. She was fine, what a trooper.

Catherine: And she wanted to chat, right?

Rick: Exactly.

Catherine: Now I want to know something. Does this child have a name?

Rick: Oh yes he does. His name is John Richard Kaempfer.

John: Wow.

Richard: You honor us, Sir.

John: Was he named after anyone?

Rick: Well, my favorite Beatle is John.

: John Lennon.

Rick: And of course, my favorite DJ....

: Really?

Rick: Yup. John Brandmeier.

(Everyone laughs)

John: OK, you got me.

(Call waiting clicks)

Rick: And actually John is also a name in Bridget’s family. Her grandfather was named John. And so is her brother.

(Call waiting clicks again)

John: I see you got baby waiting there.

Rick: Yeah, I think I may be popular today.

John: Well, we’ll let you go. Congratulations on the big news! So you’ll be back to work tomorrow, right?

Rick: Uh...well...

Catherine: John!

John: Just kidding, just kidding.

Rick: See you later.

John: There he goes. Proud papa.


John: Oh wait! Darnit! I forgot to ask him if he taped it.

Richard: Are you kidding? Of course he did.

John: Because if there was ever a disc jockey who knows how to exploit a child, it’s....

2 year old Tommy Kaempfer singing the jingle: John Records Landecker, Oldies 104.3.

Of course, I did tape it, by the way. It aired the next day. Friday the 13th.

By the time Johnny was three he was doing movie reviews and jokes on the radio. He also accompanied the show to the Dominican Republic for a live broadcast.

I kept a diary about the boys when they were babies. This is what I wrote about Johnny's birth...


The baby was already a week late, but it seemed like a month late. Bridget and I had been expecting the arrival two weeks before the due date (3/5) because her doctor said that he thought the baby was going to be early. The wait had become unbearable. We finally gave in and decided to schedule the inducement for Friday. This freaked me out because it was Friday the 13th. It would have been one thing to just have the baby on the 13th. I felt like it was tempting fate to actually schedule the birth to occur on the 13th. As it turned out, it didn’t happen.

It was Wednesday night, and we were all packed up. I wrote the outline of the show for Thursday knowing that it would be the last show before I took a leave of absence. I knew that I didn’t have to worry about getting a good night’s sleep, so at around 11:30PM I was in the basement listening to the Beatles “Rubber Soul” CD, when Bridget came bounding down the stairs.


This time I was much more relaxed than I was with Tommy. I didn’t go into a sitcom panic right away. Instead, I calmly called Cindy (my sister) on the phone. She was the ordained person to watch Tommy while we headed to the hospital. Her phone rang twice and the answering machine picked up. Uh oh. I called again. Same thing. I realized that everyone’s guard was down because we had scheduled the inducement. Nobody is on alert! Now I went into my sitcom panic.

I couldn’t call my Mom because she had a bad cold, and therefore couldn’t watch Tommy. We had to drive all the way into Chicago, and we were losing valuable time looking for someone. On a lark, I called Gerty (my aunt). Martina (my cousin) just happened to be home and I asked her to come over as soon as she could. Meanwhile, Bridget was starting to have contractions at a very rapid interval. We called her doctor, and he said not to worry--there is plenty of time to still come downtown. However, as we waited for Martina to show up, Bridget’s contractions intensified and came at even closer intervals. We called her doctor again, and he said to go the nearest hospital first and have them check if it was OK to make it all the way downtown. (I was envisioning a tollbooth birth)

Cindy and Martina showed up around the same time, and we headed over to Northwest Community Hospital. By now Bridget was screaming in pain. A sailor would have blushed at the words coming out of the dainty mouth of my little woman. Martina and Cindy looked on in horror. (Martina later said that was the closest she ever wanted to get to labor).

When we got to the hospital, we had to fill out some forms. We weren’t pre-registered, you see. After about ten seconds of Bridget’s screaming, they took her in the emergency room and had me continue to fill out the forms. Bridget looked at the nurse and asked if she could get some drugs for the pain. The nurse couldn’t look her in the eye and said the doctor would have to answer that question. We knew the answer. When I got back to the emergency room, the doctors said it was time for Bridget to start pushing. Whoa. I guess we’re not going downtown tonight after all.

The labor itself was quick. Two hours after the first contractions started, we had a brand new bouncing baby boy. Once again, we didn’t have a name picked out. We had the name “Grace Anne” chosen for the girl’s name, but we had about five names on the boy’s list. Since I had chosen Tommy, I let Bridget pick this name. Of course, after squonking out a baby, you really aren’t in the mood to make any major decisions.

I helped the process along. Soon, we had it down to two choices….James and John. Bridget liked the name James better, but she wanted to call him “Jamie”. I couldn’t stand that for a boy, but I agreed to call him “James” or “Jim”. Neither one satisfied her, so went back to the name John. We had the same trouble with the middle name. We liked the name “Stuart” as the middle name for James, but nothing seemed to sound right with John. We almost went back to James, until she came up with the middle name Richard.

That was it. Our second born child was born on March 12th at 2:00 on the nose. He was 21 inches long, weighed 8 pounds and 6 ounces and was named…JOHN RICHARD KAEMPFER.

We were both exhausted because it was so early in the morning, and I went home because Bridget had to share a room. I got home around 4AM, woke up at 7:30 with Tommy, and called the radio show at 8:30. (We have that phone call on tape). I called all of my relatives, Bridget called all of hers, and just about everyone else heard it on the radio. At about 9:30, Martina woke up. She was the last one to officially hear the news, because she slept through all of the excitement on the couch in our living room.

If you missed any previous "From the Archives," click here:

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Suburban Man: They Say the Darndest Things

By Rick Kaempfer

Everybody knows about the sacrifices involved in raising children. For a few decades you have to be willing to put yourself on the back burner. Spending time or money on yourselves isn’t really a viable option anymore.

That may not sound like a great financial deal, but I don’t know if anyone has ever done a cost-analysis on this before. For instance, what did you spend on entertainment before you had children? Did you go to several movies a week? Did you go out to dinner several times a week? Did you go out to bars several times a week? Go to the theatre to see a play? Start adding it all up. You spent a fortune.

You don’t do any of that anymore, but you still get a truckload of of charge. One person who recognized this phenomenon was Art Linkletter. In the 50s and 60s his television show “Kids Say the Darndest Things” helped make him a very wealthy man. I’m sure all of the parents who read this have at least a dozen examples of things their kids have said or done that entertain them to this day. (Send some examples to me and I’ll include them all in a future ‘Suburban Man’)

My kids are no exception. I now present a dozen of these in no particular order for your amusement. I grant you that some of these weren’t entertaining to me at the time (and I think you’ll be able to figure out which ones I’m referring to), but they will probably be entertaining to you. Some aren’t laugh out loud funny, but remember that you don’t always pay money to see comedies. Sometimes you see a drama or a movie that makes you think.

*Every time Sean hits his head he says “Tweet, tweet, tweet.” I finally asked him what he meant by that, and he told me that there were little birdies flying around his head.

*While grocery shopping with 3-year old Johnny in the soft-drink aisle, his face lit up when he saw the all the cans. He screamed: “Dad, look, BEER!”

*When Tommy was 5, I asked him: “If you could have three wishes, what would they be?” He said the following with very little hesitation: “I would wish for more nature like trees, grass and plants. I would wish for a double chocolate chip ice cream cone. And I would wish to someday discover a color that has never before been seen by the human eye.”

*When I dropped Sean off at my Mom’s the other day, he proudly said to her: “My mom says that you have a lot of crap in your basement.”

*Johnny has a bit of an anger management problem, but he’s very careful not to use bad words even when he’s enraged. Instead, he makes up his own swear words. A typical outburst goes a little like this: “YOU GO GET OUT OF THIS HOUSE AND GO TO JAIL YOU ALLERTICOTT!” When he’s really mad, he drops the B-word. If he ever calls you a “Biggie,” you are on his list forever.

*After coming out of a soccer game in which he let the ball pass him by a dozen times, Tommy came up to me and asked: “Dad, why is Elvis so popular in Hawaii?”

*Last summer we were in my Mom’s backyard, and my Mom’s neighbor was standing on her driveway. Sean sprinted across the lawn because he had to talk to her right away. When he got there, he realized he had nothing to say, and he stood there in silence for about ten seconds before blurting out: “Love your nails.”

*Last summer Johnny came up to me with a heartfelt confession. “Dad, I don’t know how to tell you this, but I really do love the Cardinals more than the Cubs. I’m sorry.” I said, “That’s fine, Johnny, but why do you love them?” He answered, “Because I think they are the prettiest birds in our backyard.”

*This is an actual conversation with Tommy after Easter Mass a few years ago.
Tommy: “Dad, who is Jesus talking to on the Cross when he says ‘Why have you forsaken me, Father?’”
Me: “He’s talking to God.”
Tommy: “So there are two Gods?”
Me: “No, there is only one. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all one God.”
Tommy: “Then who is he talking to? Himself?”
Me: “Go ask your mother.”

*Typical Sean question at breakfast--After asking “Why” for the thirtieth time in a five minute period, he pauses and says: “Why do I ask Why all the time?”

*Typical Johnny question at breakfast: “Dad, can a panther eat a boy?”

*Typical Tommy question at breakfast: “Dad, are the words ‘downtrodden’ and ‘melancholy’ interchangeable?”

See what I mean? Those are just a dozen examples off the top of my head. Every day brings a new little moment of free entertainment. Granted, when I start paying for those college tuitions I won’t consider it free any more, but until that time, I’m going on record as saying I’m getting at least as much for my entertainment dollar as I did when I went out all the time.

That, my friends, is my best rationalization. Feel free to use it yourself. It will help you get through another serving of macaroni and cheese.

If you missed any previous Suburban Man columns, click here: